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Countdown At The Trough

If you have been paying attention—and if you haven't, shame! There will be a quiz at the conclusion of this installment — you know that around this time last year I wrote an epic poem in which I prophesied all manner of wondrous and providential things to take place in the brave not-yet year 2016. Well.

“Epic” may be a bit strong to describe my doggerel, but I did empty my palette of all its rosier tones in my forecast, and boy, did I screw the pooch on that one. 2016 was a real dog's breakfast of a year. It was to years what the plastic spork is to cutlery. The high-water mark was the Broncos winning the Super Bowl in February, things have been going downhill ever since, and that tremendous thud you heard and felt a couple of weeks ago was the result of us finally hitting rock-bottom. Unfortunately, I believe the new administration is equipped with and ready to employ such tools of excavation and explosion as are needed to take us to previously unplumbed depths. In fact, I'd say that if something pretty wonderful doesn't happen in the next few weeks, like me getting pardoned by the outgoing president or a cure for capitalism being discovered, we should just write 2016 off as a bad job and expunge it from the official record.

The Giants were supposed to be World Champions and aren't because the stupid Cubs decided to splurge and buy themselves a Series. Let me tell you something about this team and their “curse” — they went to the World Series eight times between 1908 and 1945 and lost every time. That is not a curse. That is rank incompetence.

We lost Prince and Leonard Cohen and gained President Pufferfish—need I say more?

On deck and taking practice cuts is 2017, and let's take a numerological look at its constitution, because that's a totally valid discipline. Add up the digits and you get 10, which is tops if you're handicapping babes or judging gymnasts; not so good if you're a '60s era Saigon hooker. We'll call that one a wash.

17 is prime and that's good, and if you take the three primes of which 20 is the product, 2x2x5, and combine them to create a new number (225) with a square root of 15 which itself is the product of two primes, 3 and 5, then this bodes well for ski conditions and bauxite mining but predicts rough times ahead for pet groomers and the seamless gutter industry. It doesn't say much for the big picture, but I think we can all agree that, given recent trends and occurrences and the inevitable entropic decay of an already disordered system, we have some trials ahead of us.

Allow me to metaphorically illustrate our current and future condition with the following scenario. Imagine we, the American people, represented as a diver. She has just reached the zenith of the arc of her dive, using the springboard of the presidential election, and folds forward aiming for the pool of 2017, which, too late, she notices is filled with shit. That's us, America. We're fixin' to swan headfirst into a pool fulla dookie. I'm not going to start throwing around scare-terms like Armageddon and Holocaust and Antichrist, but if you want to, go ahead.

Just because the survivalists are finally going to get to say "I told you so," which is all they ever wanted in the first place, doesn't mean you can't ignore the impending cataclysm and ring in the New Year with blithe ebullience like a good American. We've a long tradition of plunging our collective heads in the sand when danger threatens; no reason to stop now. Many people of my own tendency and inclination—those whose personal mission is to regard inebriation not as an occasional respite from the workaday world but as a more-or-less permanent condition—scornfully deride holidays like New Years and St. Patrick's Day as “amateur night,” and the revelers embodying their celebrations as transgressive dilettantes encroaching on sacred territory. Not me. I love both holidays and cheerfully welcome the visitors to my world. So what if in the morning they shake off the previous night's debauchery and sally forth resolutely into the new year with renewed purpose and determination to achieve their goals while I walk around lifting beer cans and quaffing their dregs? For one brief, shining moment we all shared the same skewed vision and easily attainable goal — to get just as wasted as possible, and to lock lips at midnight with some willing desideratum and potentially lay the groundwork for a more complex and intimate interface later. Many people, women in particular, like to close out the old year with some defiant, self-destructive act before embarking on the fresh and unspoilt set of months in which behavior like that will not be tolerated. For some it's nothing more that gorging on forbidden foods, but the more adventurous often find having sex with me to be the perfect sordid cap to a year filled with failure and disappointment. I can't tell you how many times I've heard a variation of "This is a really bad idea. Let's do it" on New Year's Eve.

As with real estate and tumors, location is everything when ringing in the year. Advantageous placement can mean the difference between a successful celebration and a night in jail, or worse. House parties are good, as long as you don't have the kind of friends who habitually arm themselves as a prerequisite to revelry, or attend the kind of bashes where you need to. Hotel bars in urban centers are good, as are downtown taverns that do a large business in complex, provocatively named shots. Strip-mall "Irish" pubs can be promising, the kind with their name done in stained glass out front, but you want to keep clear of bars described as “working-class.” Be particularly wary of any establishment which refers to itself as a “trough.”

Nine times out of ten, the name of a bar is enough to disclose its true nature and let me know what sort of a time I'm in for.

Tell me we're going drinking at O'Houlihans, or The First Down, or the Dew Drop Inn, and I know exactly what kind of time I'm going to have. Invite me to the Water Trough and I feel a frisson of unease. Trough? A trough is where animals gather to feed and water, or, secondarily, human males to urinate. Calling your bar the Water Trough is as much as shouting, "Attention bottom feeders who've been 86'ed from everywhere with even a scintilla of respectability! You have a home!"

Naturally, you're wondering why a classy gent like myself would end up at the Water Trough on New Year's Eve, since that is obviously where this headed. A) I happened to be on the south end of town, and b) I had made some hastily incorrect assumptions when I heard “the bar,” the crucial one being that I was with actual human beings and not the type who would sate themselves at a communal trench. There I was, though, and in true trooper fashion and can-do spirit I resolved to make the very best of it and see if I couldn't salvage some merriment from this Bucket-of-Blood-ish situation.

I was pleased, on entering the establishment, to see that there was no actual trough and the patrons were drinking from glasses and bottles and standing more or less upright. I would not describe the atmosphere as festive, not as I would define the term; of course, I had no baseline to compare it to. Perhaps this was the trough-drinkers version of holiday merriment, grimly pounding shots and glaring at strangers as they walked in.

I ordered a beer and scanned the room for any potential osculatory targets. I saw a couple sets of palatable-looking lips, though they were attached to people who looked like they might charge extra for that service. One lass in low-slung jeans and a halter top presenting a rearward aspect to me displayed a tramp stamp reading "Garbage In, Garbage Out." Definitely a possibility, though her attention was being monopolized by a couple of bearded louts with large knives on their hips.

And then I saw her, walking out of the ladies' like a dirty-blonde angel. Tall, willowy, wearing a black leather jacket over a white V-neck T-shirt, she tossed her 70s-feathered hair fetchingly and walked regally toward the bar, and ultimately right next to me.

"Happy New Year," I said. "Buy you a drink?"

"Fuck off," she said without looking at me, in a bored, rote tone.

I imagined her first fifteen or twenty Fuck-offs had carried some real bite but now were largely desultory, as if I should've known I had no business speaking to her and I was being told to fuck off strictly as a public service.

"Fucking off," I said. "Sorry to bother you."

She turned to me. "No offense, just, you know, fuck off," she said, and favored me with a flash of a smile. She got her drink and walked off.

She looked over at me then and said, again, not unkindly, "No offense, just, you know, fuck off."

I tipped my bottle in response and she favored me with a brief flash of smile, got her drink, and walked off. She reminded me of Kelly Lynch in the movie "Homegrown," which probably led to the rash and impulsive act which followed.

I got up and walked to where she was posted up at the jukebox and tapped her on the shoulder. "Hey, yeah, sorry, I know I'm violating the fuck-off order, but I just wanted to see if maybe for the new year you intend making any kind of self-improvement resolutions. Not that you need improvement that I can see, I'm sure you're fine, but if maybe you're looking to be more charitable or anything I could really use someone to kiss. And it would. Be charity, I mean. I don't know anyone in this bar and I have a perfect record for New Year kissing going back to 1975, except for when I was in prison. Not that I've been to prison. Okay, I was, but not for anything gross. What do you say?"

"No tongue, I want a shot of Patr6n, and you can't hang around me til midnight. Also if anyone asks, you're my cousin."

"Done!" I said, and went to get her drink.

I killed the remaining 15 minutes listening to a completely unintelligible man trying to explain something to me which apparently, judging from his hand gestures, involved the men's room, but I'd let my bladder burst before I'd go in there.

Finally the countdown began. I scanned the room and as the count hit three I saw her walking toward me, arms outstretched. "Charlie!" she shouted. "Happy New Year!" She hugged me and planted one smack on the gob. "How's Grandma? Hey, I gotta go. Great to see you." And with a wink, she was gone.

And there you have it. New Year's Eve at the Trough — not a resounding success, but a “W” nonetheless. I understand the place is no more, which I'm sure has positively impacted local rates of violent crime, STD transmission, domestic abuse, and general felonious rascalry, but I've no doubt it's deeply mourned by some. Some of the patrons I saw there seemed to have some kind of symbio-organic bond with the place wherein neither could survive without the other. Oh, well— march of progress and all that.

Happy New Year, everyone, and may 2017 make you forget its sorry-ass predecessor ever existed. May each month grow progressively more beneficial to your program until next December finds you wallowing in contentment and bliss.

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